China's pampered, 20-something "little emperors'' surprised the nation with their hard work during the Beijing Olympics and the May earthquake that killed an estimated 87,500 people --showing that they may, after all, be capable of leading China to superpower status instead of just to the mall.
Since the 1980s, China's rapidly developing economy and policies limiting many families to one child created a generation of 200 million young men and women with unprecedented wealth and opportunities. In a nation with a tradition of conformity and a recent history of political radicalism, the "balinghou'' broke with both, spawning visions of adults obsessed with money, unable to stay married and negligent in caring for aging parents.
"Given another 10 to 15 years, the country will be in their hands,'' says Chen Xingdong, chief China economist at BNP Paribas SA in Beijing. "Are they perfect? No, but actually they are far better than people's original perspective.''
The balinghou -- literally "post-80s'' -- were born between 1980 and 1989 at the confluence of two massive social changes: the government's decision in 1978 to abandon isolationism and develop a market economy after the Cultural Revolution, and the adoption in 1979 of restrictions that reduced the average family from 2.9 children to 1.3 in urban areas by 2004.
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